I owe a great deal of gratitude to Peter Roman. He saved my professional life—and more. In 1969, I stumbled upon Peter, who, with his wife, Gail had moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn (what at that time was a lower-rent district), on the same block that my wife and I had earlier moved to. We quickly discovered that we were involved, up to our necks, with “the movement.” In addition to the civil rights and anti-war movements, Peter and I shared, deeply, a belief in the centrality of the labor movement as the prime means of achieving social justice. At that time, I was working in what was then called, Newark College of Engineering; Peter who was working as a reporter for The National Guardian (later named The Guardian), had been assigned to cover the Newark Teachers Union’s second, and equally militant, strike. In a supportive role, I had been involved with this complex struggle. I offered to introduce Peter to the officers and the on-the-ground leaders of this prolonged strike. Ultimately, Peter wrote important articles and the teachers won the strike. The cost was great. Over two-hundred teachers and one supporter, were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from ten days to more than one year for defying a court writ forbidding the strike. That jail term and my “encouragement” of a month-long student strike in response to the murder of four nonviolent peace protesters in Kent State University in Ohio cost me my job.
In the summer of 1972. I was preparing to return to my previous position as a caseworker, in the NYC Dept. of Social Services, in the South Bronx, when I received a call from Peter informing me that a position had opened in the Social Sciences Dept. which he chaired, in the recently founded Hostos Community College (CUNY), in the South Bronx.
Peter Roman had begun teaching at Hostos in September 1971, the second year Hostos began giving classes. At Hostos, Peter was like a fish in water. He was uniquely suitable for the job. He had attended Princeton, where he concentrated in Latin American Studies. Previously, while on a one-year stay in Chile he had learned Spanish fluently, and he became a socialist. At that time, Hostos was a bilingual college, a school where students who knew little or no English could begin their studies in Spanish while learning English. Hostos was as close to being a bilingual college as any other institution of higher learning in the United States. Peter’s fluency in Spanish and his knowledge of Latin American history enabled him to teach courses relevant to Hostos’ students, in Spanish.
Prior to becoming the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) Chapter Chair, Peter played a major role in saving the lives of Chilean refugees by working with the Hostos administration to arrange commitments of employment, which enabled them to obtain visas. Outside of Hostos, he helped obtain work permits for at least one Brazilian refugee. Peter also played the key role in obtaining an appointment at Hostos for Dr. Herbert Aptheker, the renowned historian of African-American history and the literary executor of his close colleague, W. E. B. Du Bois, who because of his political views and activities had been barred from Academia.
Peter consistently supported the campaigns of the five-year-long movement (1973 to 1978) to Save Hostos, which was threatened with closure during New York City’s financial crisis. He wrote letters on behalf of this struggle to public officials and twice had letters published in The New York Times. He lobbied, and of course he could always be seen in the ranks of the luchadores (those who struggle). Peter helped to bring Hostos’ cause to wider audiences necessary for the magnificent victory of saving Hostos Community College. He is one of the giants responsible for what was for that period the most successful mass movement in New York City.
From the Fall 1978 to 1984, Peter served two terms as the PSC Chair. From that position, he negotiated an agreement with then-President Flora Edwards to limit enrollment to twenty students in all developmental courses, and won battles to save the jobs of individuals who had been treated unfairly by the administration.
Subsequently, Peter played a leading role on academic committees, groups advocating for our college, the union, and left organizations such as the Hostos Solidarity Coalition that brought together the fight against Apartheid, support for Nicaragua, and the struggle for social justice here in America.
Over time, Peter’s major energies shifted to lecturing and publishing about Cuba. In so doing, he became a recognized scholar/spokesperson for Cuba’s democratic features found in their workers communal and occupational experiences that were unavailable to their counterparts in “democratic” countries. For many years, he maintained an especially close relationship, both as a contributor and a member of its board, with the journal, Socialism and Democracy.
If Peter had written his own obituary, he would have put all that has been noted above after talking about his family: his wife Gail, his daughter Hannah and son Karl.
Peter Roman put his life to good purpose. He would have loved to have heard a song that in years gone by was sung at the wakes of people’s heroes: “To you beloved comrade we give you our vow—the fight will go on.” If we do not know its melody, we can hear it in our hearts.